We may be facing some of “the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War”. These span several sectors, with many aimed at making it easier to build better homes where people want to live: a subject I'm passionate about.

While this move to simultaneously deliver much-needed housing while also bolstering the construction industry is welcomed, I believe it is critical that we don’t lose focus of our longer term vision in the process.

What Were the Announcements?

The Government’s “build, build, build” approach to social and economic recovery was announced in a speech on 30 June, and included a significant focus on housing. As reported by the National Housing Federation, some of the key announcements made were:

  • Changes to planning, including allowing more commercial buildings to change to residential use 
  • A planning policy paper to be published in July setting out ‘a plan for comprehensive reform of England’s planning system'
  • Confirmation that the £400m for building on brownfield sites announced in the March Budget will support around 24,000 homes, and details of regional allocation 
  • A commitment to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively
  • 1,500 pilot of First Homes to be included in the Affordable Homes Programme
  • An additional £450m for the Home Builders Fund to help smaller developers access finance for new housing developments

The spending commitment, announced at Budget, of £12.2bn over five years to build 180,000 affordable homes is unchanged.

Strategic Focus

These changes are planned to come into effect by September through changes to the law. A monumental effort will be needed from Central Government, Local Goverment and the private sector to ensure a joined up approach. To achieve this whilst delivering genuine and sustainable value, I feel the following three strategic areas need consideration at every stage of the funding and development process:

  1. Rebuilding Green: the announcement made no reference to energy efficiency. It’s critical that, as Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), said, we should be looking to ”build back better”. She said: “If we do not seize this moment, and take the opportunity to underpin our recovery plans with climate ambition, we will not achieve our target of net zero emissions by 2050”.
  2. Brownfield Development: while there are indeed numerous benefits to building on brownfield land (and an abundance of such land), we must not let this become a rallying cry for demolition of estates under the banner of ‘regeneration’. Working with existing communities and families is critical to generate schemes that are genuinely affordable, don’t displace existing communities in either the short or longer-term, and offer market value to the public sector for any land or assets.

3. Building Better, Building Beautiful: RIBA president Alan Jones warned that foregoing requirements for planning applications was at odds with the government’s stated ambition to build more beautifully. “I urge the prime minister not to waste this opportunity and to re-build a more sustainable and resilient economy, ensuring that quality and safety remain at the heart of investment.”